Google, Rackspace to Collaborate on OpenPower Server Design

The alliance was only part of the news coming out of the OpenPower Summit that shows the growth of the open-source group since it launched in 2013.

OpenPower server design

SAN JOSE, Calif.—IBM officials in December 2013 open-sourced its Power chip architecture and, along with several other tech vendors, launched the OpenPower Foundation, hoping to expand the reach of the processors and carve into Intel's dominance in the data center.

Just more than two years later, OpenPower officials at the group's second annual convention here unveiled a broad array of new devices based on OpenPower from many of the group's more than 200 members, gave some details on the roadmap for Power chips beyond the current Power8 processors, said Google and Rackspace are working together on a next-generation OpenPower system based on future Power9 chips and rolled out an "OpenPower Ready" logo members can put on their hardware and software products.

Such moves illustrate the momentum OpenPower officials said the open-source effort has built up over the past couple of years, particularly since the first OpenPower Summit a year ago. At the time, the group had about 130 members and showed off fewer than 20 OpenPower-based systems and components. This year the group sports more than 200 members, and on stage during the morning sessions at the summit April 6 were almost 60 products. More than 2,300 applications run on Linux on Power.

The membership includes a range of heavyweight tech vendors and cloud providers—including Google, Nvidia, Brocade, NEC and Mellanox Technologies—building everything from servers and network switches to memory cards, network adapters and expansion units. Members can license IBM's Power architecture and build products on top of it.

The consortium's growth comes as enterprises and service providers looking for viable alternatives to Intel, whose x86-based products control more than 95 percent of the server market. According to industry analysts, customers aren't necessarily looking to replace Intel, but want to have a second source for technology to help keep prices down and protect them should anything go awry in the supply lines.

In addition, hyperscale players like Google and Facebook embrace open-source technologies as they build their own data center systems.

Both OpenPower and ARM are pushing to be the Intel alternative in the data center. OpenPower officials said the open-source model fosters faster innovation and a broader range of options than a single tech provider can offer.

"The marketplace has been super clear on this," John Zannos, chairman of the foundation and vice president of worldwide alliances, business development and cloud platforms at Ubuntu provider Canonical, said during the summit. "We want choice. We don't want lock-in."

The progress the OpenPower Foundation has made is impressive, according to Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT.

"The growing rosters of OpenPOWER members and commercial solutions demonstrate that the Foundation is a stable, increasingly potent force in commercial data centers," King wrote in a research note. "The new and upcoming solutions developed individually and collaboratively by Foundation members speak to the evolving value of IBM's POWER Architecture. But they also highlight the desire for new, alternative computing innovations among global data center vendors and the customers they serve."

Google was a founding member of the OpenPower effort, using the Power8 chip in some of the servers in its data centers and earlier this year announced it is working with Facebook to develop 48v racks that comply with Open Compute Project (OCP) specifications. Maire Mahony, hardware engineer manager at Google and an OpenPower director, said at the summit that OpenPower gives the search giant the best chance to develop systems that can help improve performance while driving down power consumption as it deals with increasing demands for compute power. Google has ported many of its applications to the Power architecture, Mahony said.